Chaos across the border
PM Shehbaz Sharif described the damaging of public property as an act of terrorism. The chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was taken into custody upon the orders of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
This week, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan was sent on an eight day remand to the anti-corruption watchdog while a sessions court indicted him in a separate graft case. Khan’s dramatic arrest on the Islamabad high court premises triggered rioting and arson, which rocked the neighbouring nation and led to seven deaths, and 1,000-odd arrests. PM Shehbaz Sharif described the damaging of public property as an act of terrorism. The chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was taken into custody upon the orders of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
The Islamabad district and sessions court charged Khan in the Toshakhana case, involving the unlawful sale of state gifts during his term as PM. The NAB lawyers had sought a 14-day remand of Khan to probe allegations against him in the Al-Qadir Trust case in which he is accused of helping a firm launder Rs 50 bn from the UK through the trust. Khan has been laden with dozens of criminal cases since he was booted out from office in April 2022 in a no-confidence vote in the Parliament.
Conviction in the Toshakhana case would disqualify him from contesting in the elections due in October. After being ousted from office, Khan had vowed that he would lead the nation a second time. He was pushed out of premiership amid frustration at high inflation, rising deficits and endemic corruption, which he had promised to stamp out.
It might be recalled that the cricket legend had rallied the country with a vision of a corruption-free, prosperous nation. His rise was two decades in the making, after he first launched PTI in 1996. Having assumed power, Khan embarked on a plan to build a welfare state modelled on his idea of an Islamic world from 14 centuries ago. However, his anti-corruption drive came under criticism as a blunt tool to entrap political opponents, several of whom were imprisoned on charges of graft.
Khan was also called out by the citizens for being a string puppet of the country’s all-pervasive military establishment. Despite having an outsized role in Pakistan, the military maintains that it remains neutral towards all matters political. Like it or not, that is a sticky wicket as far as Islamabad is concerned, going by the number of times military dictators have taken control. Khan’s tendency to lambast the nation’s military-security establishment has been put in its place by the manner of his arrest – by the paramilitary Rangers.
Analysts surmise that although the Supreme Court has ordered for Khan’s immediate release, his political prospects remain unclear. But, let’s not forget, Khan’s remand has played out against the backdrop of an economic freefall in Pakistan, which is witnessing increasing militant attacks in the run up to the elections. While the military might be tempted into taking power back in its hands — in the event of a civil war like scenario — it is aware of what that would mean for Islamabad’s image on the global stage. Any progress made in terms of soft diplomacy risks being run to the ground, and that includes possible bailouts from the IMF and nations in the middle-east, not to forget, its all weather-ally China. More than anything, it’s time for India to be on alert, as trouble in the neighbourhood could have consequences that are far reaching, and unpredictable to say the least.